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How to speak Linux

I didn’t even stop to imagine that people pronounced Linux commands differently until many years ago when I heard a coworker use the word “vie” (as in “The teams will vie for the title”) for what I’d always pronounced “vee I”. It was a moment that I’ll never forget. Our homogenous and somewhat rebellious community of Unix/Linux advocates seemed to have descended into dialects – not just preferences for Solaris or Red Hat or Debian or some other variant (fewer back in those days than we have today), but different ways of referring to the commands we knew and used every day.

The “problem” has a number of causes. For one thing, our beloved man pages don’t include pronunciation guidelines like dictionaries do. For another, Unix commands evolved with a number of different pronunciation rules. The names of some commands (like “cat”) were derived from words (like “concatenate”) and were pronounced as if they were words too (some actually are). Others derived from phrases like “cpio” which pull together the idea of copying (cp) and I/O. Others are simply abbreviations like “cd” for “change directory”. And then we have tools like “awk” that go in an entirely different direction by being named for the surnames of its creators (Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan). No wonder there are no consistent rules for how to pronounce commands!

Some commands are basically pronounced as it we are spelling them out loud — like “el es” for ls and “pee double-u dee” for pwd while others are read like “chown” (rhyming with “clown” as if there are words. And, since many Linux users might first be exposed to the Linx command line on some old PC that they’ve decided to put to better use, they may never hear other people saying Linux commands out loud. So, in today’s post, I’m going to explain how I pronounce Linux commands and how I’ve heard some others going in different directions.

We’ll start with the easy stuff. A number of Linux commands are simply words and, at least for English speakers, just get pronounced like the words when people are using them in conversation.

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